Some colors go together like chalk and cheese. But, with a little research, some practice and the use of your ‘eye’, you can find complementary colors.
Red and green will always go together. It’s the law. But, red and orange are a big no-no. they just do not work together.
Look at our 25 stunning examples to set you on the right path.
Pssst – If you are looking for more information behind color theory, see our How to Use Complementary Colors in Photography article.
Red and Green
I often hear that red and green is not a pleasing combination. To those who think that I would like to show some Christmas decorations. Or a strawberry.
Red and green is a common pair in nature. Take a look at red flowers on green grass, apples in a foliage, tropical birds or even a ladybug on a leaf.
You should be careful when red dominates the image. This is a strong color, so make sure you want to turn the intensity of your photo up to eleven.
When you let green take the lion’s share of the image, red becomes a perfect anchor to your point of interest. Our eyes are naturally drawn to bright warm colors.
So don’t be afraid to use a spot of red to mark the focus of the viewer’s attention.
Yellow and Purple
Yellow is the most visible color from a distance. It is often used to highlight an accent, to present an emergency and cautionary signal.
If you need to grab attention fast, use a splash of yellow. It works well with its complementary color, purple.
This combination usually feels modern and playful. Perfect for experiments with color blocking and fashion photography!
Sometimes photographers tend to overdo it a bit. Keep this combination in subdued, darker, less saturated tones.
Unless, of course, you’re not going for a fantasy effect with the feeling of a mysterious land.
Orange and Blue
Amber and teal. A fantastic combination, the most notable one between complementary pairs.
They have significant emotional weight. This is because both are strongly associated with opposing concepts.
Warmth and cold, earth and sky, land and sea, fire and ice. They are very close to ambient light. And tend to harmonize well with human skin.
This is a powerful combination. But try to use it with care and thought. Sometimes photographers use these two colors without a clear purpose.
Because of that, an image can look over-processed and too artificial.
Check out our article How to Make the Most of Contrasting Colors: Orange and Blue for more details.
Green and Magenta
Green is everywhere in nature. Usually, photographers use it in analogous color harmonies. They’ll mix green tones with yellows, teals, and blues.
But it can be combined with its complementary magenta for an interesting result.
Rich, saturated magenta looks gorgeous with darker shades of green. And also with more watery greens, such as sage or mint green.
These more neutral greens take the background role while magenta steps forward. It also works with colors analogous to magenta (like different shades of violet and pink).
Red and Cyan
Cyan is a lighter shade of blue. It’s close to teal, turquoise, electric blue, aquamarine, and other shades of blue-green. In combination with red, it creates a very intense neon palette.
It could be a powerful combination if you need a fresh, modern and energetic look.
The important thing to remember here is that red tends to appear as the most saturated color on camera sensors. It’s very easy to blow out. You have to be careful with saturation.
I prefer to change red for the less intense pink in combination with cyan.
This way photos still look captivation and engaging but at the same time a bit more subtle.
Blue and Yellow
This is a lighter variation of orange and teal. I especially love the combination of a blue background and a bright yellow object. It always reminds me of sunshine and The Simpsons.
Images like this always have a happy and cheerful atmosphere. And this combination is great when you want one object to “pop” against a smooth background.
Keep the colors clear and simple. No need for more subdued and darker shades. Don’t be afraid to keep it bright and colorful!